We have developed statistical mechanical descriptions of the effects of head-group structure and acyl chain unsaturation on the chain melting phase transition of aqueous dispersions of bilayers containing glycerophosphocholines and glycerophosphoethanolamines. The theoretical framework is an extension of the model of Jacobs et al. [Jacobs, R.E., Hudson, B.S., & Andersen, H.C. (1975) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 72, 3993]. There are several systematic trends in the experimental transition data for various types of phospholipids. Assumptions about the physical origins of these trends were incorporated into statistical mechanical models, which were used to calculate transition temperatures and enthalpies. The extent to which the calculated results of a model reproduce the experimental trends is taken as a measure of the validity of the assumptions on which the model is based. We found that the gross differences among the transition temperatures of phospholipids with two saturated chains, two trans-unsaturated chains, two cis-unsaturated chains, and one cis-unsaturated and one saturated chain can all be explained in terms of the effect of the double bonds on molecular shape and the subsequent effect of shape on the ability of molecules to pack together into a low-energy state at high density. The dependence of transition temperature on the location of the double bond in cis-unsaturated molecules can be understood on the same basis. The differences between the transition temperatures of glycerophosphocholines and glycerophosphoethanolamines with the same hydrocarbon chains can be explained in terms of a larger intermolecular attraction (or smaller repulsion) for the latter than for the former. These differences depend on the presence or absence of unsaturation in the hydrocarbon chains in a way that is consistent with the postulate that hydrogen bonding between glycerophosphoethanolamines is responsible for the differences.
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